MORGAN Freeman has played the President of the United States, God and now at last he has graduated to
Nelson Mandela. He is by far the best thing in this film, and plays South Africa’s first post-apartheid president as a sprightly father of the nation (“I have 42m children”), who by an act of will urged on the country’s rugby team to 1995 World Cup victory.
As for co-star Matt Damon, who plays Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, I was hoping for something resembling Sylvester Stallone’s legendarily awful goalkeeping in the second world war flick Escape to Victory. But – what were they thinking? – you barely see him pass a ball.
It’s not the only disappointment. Director Clint Eastwood is on full heartstring-tugging form, and he proves himself unafraid of cliché. That translates as some desperate rainbow-nation images, such as the scene where Mandela’s Afrikaans and black body-guards, who mistrust each other, start to play rugby together.
Having said that, this is well-told underdog story, and Mandela comes across as an inspirational figure. His story is so amazing it bears re-telling.
There is a fascinating film struggling to get out here, but Invictus is curiously coy about the reality of life in South
Africa – we barely see the townships. There is a shocking moment when Pienaar and Mandela’s tea-lady greet each other in Afrikaans in front of the English-speaking president, hinting at the sorts of divides that won’t be bridged by winning a rugby game.
But the country’s complexities are swept away in a wave of wide-eyed optimism. The rugby scenes go on too long. Worse, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the World Cup win kick-started a bright new start for South Africa. Given the reality, Invictus is shamefully glib.
Youth in revolt
BASED on CD Payne’s coming-of-age novel, this is an American indie romcom in the vein of Juno, equal parts clever, depressing and shallow. The cleverness lies in the main character of Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), a gawky, sexually frustrated and well-read teenager, whose sweetness gets in the way of him losing his virginity. This becomes a pressing matter when he falls in love with the brainy, sophisticated and beautiful Sheeni Saunders, who he meets while on a trailer park holiday with his unpleasantly trashy mother and her far worse partner.
To make Sheeni fall for him, Nick invents a coolly brutal French misanthrope as an alter ego, who goads him on to commit crimes and other shocking acts, to show Sheeni he can act like a real (French) man.
The alter ego (and Nick’s doppelganger) is cringeworthy and tiresomely obnoxious, coming across as a poorly constructed gimmick of a character.
At times the film is eye-rollingly indie – consummately “quirky” and “offbeat”. But Cera as Twisp is thoroughly endearing and his peculiar brand of hapless intelligence makes the film worth watching.
The first thing you notice when you enter this retrospective of Turner Prize winner Ofili is simple, mesmeric beauty. Ofili, who won the Turner for his painting of murdered teen Stephen Lawrence’s mother weeping, is known for his use of elephant dung in paintings – a riff on African culture and folklore. First-timers will marvel at how his early pictures are propped up on dung balls and laden with well-placed globs. The faeces are beautiful – glazed, beaded and earthy.
The core of the show is an installation called The Upper Room, a darkened wooden space very like a sacred ecclesiastical chamber with 13 lit paintings of a monkey holding a cup. It is in beautiful hues, from pink to green to orange, crowned by a large gold work at the top of the room. Monkey worship meets The Last Supper.
Ofili’s latest paintings, made since a move to Trinidad, are haunting, dark and voluptuous, a blend of death, sex and nature. A dazzling, bewilderingly beautiful exhibition from beginning to end.